‘Nonsense’ decision to shrink Charlton neighbourhood forum criticised by councillors

Charlton station
The area is now split at Charlton station, with the eastbound platform excluded from the area

Two Labour councillors have criticised their own town hall’s decision to exclude part of Charlton from a new neighbourhood forum for the area – with one branding it “a real nonsense”.

Greenwich Council approved plans to set up a neighbourhood forum for Charlton last week – the third such body in the borough.

Neighbourhood forums are led by residents and, once approved by councils, can set up neighbourhood plans which have to be taken into consideration when deciding the future of the area.

Areas with neighbourhood plans can also have more cash from developers spent in the area – 25 per cent of the community infrastructure levy, rather than the 15 per cent seen in other parts of the borough.

But the Charlton forum has lost a northwestern chunk of the area after objections from the three councillors for the soon-to-be abolished Peninsula ward, including Stephen Brain, the controversial chair of planning who has clashed with the residents’ groups who are likely to dominate the new forum.

The new forum’s area (click to expand)

Brain, together with fellow councillors Chris Lloyd and Denise Scott-McDonald, said it would be “highly inappropriate” for residents from elsewhere in Charlton to have influence over decisions made in their ward – or to receive the extra cash from developers.

Landowners and businesses by the river had also objected to the forum including their area, which includes safeguarded wharves. The decision leaves an area north of the Greenwich railway line and west of Anchor & Hope Lane – including new housing at Bowen Drive and residential streets around Troughton Road and Gurdon Road – outside the forum area. The Bugsbys Way retail strip and Cory’s boatyard are also excluded.

Other councillors are unable to challenge the move after it was made an “urgent” decision, meaning they cannot call it in for scrutiny.

In July, Brain clashed with representatives of residents’ groups during a planning hearing on a development in the Charlton Riverside, arguing with them over the heights allowed in the area. “I don’t want to be argumentative, but I’m going to be because I’m the chair,” he told one resident.

Neither Brain nor Lloyd will be councillors in the area after May’s election – Brain is standing down while Lloyd has switched to the new West Thamesmead seat. But Scott-McDonald, the council’s deputy leader, remains and will be contesting the new Greenwich Peninsula seat for Labour.

David Gardner, a Woolwich Common councillor who is also a member of the Charlton Society, told a council scrutiny meeting on Monday: “It’s a bizarre decision – it splits conservation areas, it splits Charlton station, it splits communities and it splits the Charlton Riverside. It’s a real nonsense and it doesn’t really allow for a proper neighbourhood plan.

“The report was left so late, there was no ability for councillors to go through the call-in procedure. I’m very very concerned as to why that should have happened.

“It’s a bizarre decision that makes no sense, there was no dialogue about it, and call-in was miraculously avoided, which I think is very, very worrying.”

Cory boatyard, Charlton
The Cory boatyard is left out of the forum area

Helen Brown, a member of the forum, said the changes seemed “quite arbitrary”, and that it would prove a “weakness” in planning for the future of the Charlton Riverside area.

“Our boundaries had been through a proper consultation with the community to find the best way to represent the whole of the SE7 postcode,” she said.

We have this wonderful decision to take us forward, we have an amended area that doesn’t really follow the intentions of our original proposal. It’s a lost opportunity that we’ve not had the opportunity to talk to anyone about.”

She said she felt it would be a “mistake” for the new forum to simply accept its shrunken area.

Gary Parker, a Charlton ward councillor who was chairing the meeting, said there had been “a complete lack of transparency” over the decision.

Victoria Geoghegan, the council’s assistant director of planning, confirmed that the decision could not be challenged but said she would look at what options were open to the new forum. She also said there had been objections from within the Peninsula ward area.

“Once the decision is made we can’t go back and review that decision,” she said. The rationale for the decision was in a report to councillors, she said. ”If it’s not clear, I will go back and see what I can extract to explain it better.”


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